I think I've found a decent formula for doing these set review articles after some trial and lots of error. You don't need me to tell you which cards are good and which ones are bad and I don't want to do that, anyway. Either I'm insulting your intelligence or I'm wrong and either way, I don't win. Instead, I want to talk about the cards I think are either uniquely 75% because they align us with some of our 75% deck-building principles or they enhance a deck that's built that way. Whether or not the cards end up good or bad after some testing isn't relevant at this point in time - the set hasn't been released and it could be a long time until I have some physical copies of cards to use. Instead of declaring what's good and bad, I'm going to do what I did for the last few sets and I'm going to talk about 10 cards I can't wait to test. This set has a lot of cards that are very good but I found 10 that align with how a 75% deck is built and I'm excited to both talk about them and also play with them as soon as possible. Let's get into some cards, shall we?
This is better than Explosive Vegetation. Explosive Vegetation is not a great card but it still sees significant play in Commander and any deck that runs it should run this instead immediately. There are a lot of better options than Explosive Vegetation, though, and a lot of people have started running those. Is Migration Path better than Grow From the Ashes? Nissa's Pilgrimage? Far Wanderings? I would experiment a bit. One problem I keep encountering with cards like those in decks that are very good at playing a lot of lands (which is most of my Green decks, if I can help it) is that I hate drawing cards like this late, and being able to cycle it to dig appeals to me very much. How much I like that flexibility versus having a card that's better when I draw it earlier remains to be seen with some testing. However, spells that are Explosive Vegetation or worse should probably be put out to pasture.
The Ultimatum Cycle
All of these are pretty good, even compared with the previous Ultimatum cycle. I thought the Jeskai one was a bit, pun not intended, uninspired until I read the Temur one and realized Jeskai probably has ways to loop this, re-cast it for free, get it off of a Narset swing, etc. It's not a very powerful effect played once outside of drawing an absurd number of cards, but if you get it off more than once, it's nuts. I could be biased by the amount of damage on the card and there's a reason for that. I tend to view cards that have a number of damage in Commander as being half of what they are since they were balanced for a 20 life format but other effects to be the exact number they are. Something that does 5 damage in Commander effectively deals 2 ½ in 60 card Contructed and I have to evaluate it through that lens. Something that says draw 5 cards, though, always says draw 5 cards. The other ultimatums (Ultimata? Ultimatae?) scale very nicely into Commander - all of your opponents' permanents is all of your opponents' permanents in a 40 life format, too. All of these cards are very good but very narrow. I think a format with very good mana like Commander or where I could potentially hit Temur Genesis Ultimatum with Maelstrom Wanderer, for example, makes me want to play all of these. Ruinous Ultimatum goes in most of my 5 color decks, Genesis in Maesltrom Wanderer and Omnath, Eerie in my 5-color decks, Inspired in Kykar (where it costs ) and emergent in Muldrotha and Yarok. This cycle is so good, I cheated and did 14 cards on my list instead of 10.
Old Broody as it likes to be called has the potential to be either a value enabler or a value engine, depending on whether you can get Solemnity going. It's very obvious that this card is good and I hesitated to write about it since I wanted to highlight 75% cards not "obviously good" cards, but I think since 75% decks tend to run more Enchantments and fewer Creatures than most builds, this could end up being a little more important in those builds. Even if you're just getting some extra value with the creatures you sacrafice in a Teysa Karlov deck, you can get more aggressive with adding more sac outlets to your deck if you have cards like Mimic Vat, which is a card I'm adding to more and more 75% decks. Consider adding an altar if you don't have one, a second if you do, a Skullclamp, a Perilous Forays, a Shivan Harvest, a Goblin Bombardment. If you get more ETB triggers and upgrade your creatures to fliers with this card around, you can sac with a little more abandon, and that's how 75% decks work in my view.
When I was starting out as a Magic player, I would just grab whatever Basic Lands I could find to put in the deck and it wasn't until I saw someone playing with Portal lands that I realized how satisfying it could feel to have matching Basics. Portal lands were the first to feature a large mana symbol in the text box rather than a line of text. Before I could get a set of matching Portal lands together, though, Unglued came out and changed everything. The basic lands in Unglued are my favorite 22 years later and getting those lands meant buying and begging packs. Every time I got a new pack of Unglued, I was one step closer to full sets of the lands and while I never played with Unglued cards, I liked collecting them. One card in particular called Giant Fan really spoke to me. I loved the idea of committing something permanent like a counter but retaining the freedom to move it later. A few cards have come close to the Giant Fan experience, but nothing quite like this. One great thing about The Ozolith being an intermediary step in moving counters from one creature to another is that cards like Doubling Season have multiple chances to go to work. Not all counters will be as useful on every creature, but since they'll mostly be +1/+1 counters, you're almost always going to be very happy. Almost all of my Simic decks are counters decks with Simic Ascendancy, so placing +1/+1 counters on creatures multiple times rather than those counters going to waste if a creature dies means you'll get that Ascendancy win in no time. I've waited 22 years for this card and the wait was worth it.
Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
Mythic Planeswalkers are almost always very good but Lukka speaks to me because most of my Red decks lately have broken parity by not paying the mana costs on big spells and Lukka is very good in a deck that does that. If you're playing a bunch of big, dumb Eldrazi, his ultimate is actually a win condition and both of his other abilities help you cheat at Magic. Lukka is a mythic planeswalker, which means he's bound to be good, but he's also excellent at cheating in the specific way my Red decks cheat, and I like that in a card.
Vivien, Monsters' Advocate
Mythic Planeswalkers are almost always very good but Vivien speaks to me because all of my Green decks ever could benefit from pseudo-card draw and having an extra card in your hand that they can't make you discard is good. When it's a creature, play it with Vivien. When it's a land, play it with Oracle of Mul-Daya or Courser of Kruphix. The printing of Vannifar got people interested in playing cards with sequential converted mana costs whether Vannifar is in the 99 or the command zone. Vivien does work in a deck like that and can protect herself, which is good when your 5 mana 'walker has 3 starting loyalty. Any deck with Vannifar I run, which is now more than one (I know, boring) should take a look at this, but also decks that contain Vizier of the Menagerie and Oracle of Mul-Daya could take a look. Space for Planeswalkers is very limited in Commander but I think this warrants a look.
Of the cycle, I think this may be the most underrated, currently. It costs more than the others but it makes up for it in pluck. In my Mardu decks, I tend to run creatures that aren't just beaters because I think attacking is kind of boring. Value creatures, ones with ETB triggers, stuff like Sun Titan and Stonehewer Giant, those are the creatures I want in a Mardu deck. Having a card that's going to give me Seance-esque value very combat step is very welcome when I have creatures like Zealous Conscripts, Godo, Bandit Warlord, and Combat Celebrants in the deck and their effect is much more important than their power and toughness. If they kill a "combo" piece like one of these creatures and I draw the other part of the combo later, I can reunite them on the battlefield. A spell like this frees up my spells like Animate Dead for creatures in my opponents' yards, and I appreciate that. The rest of the cycle is quite good, but this one struck a chord with me.
A lot of my Simic decks run +1/+1 counters and this seems very strong. I tend to have the biggest creatures in decks like that, whether it's because I made a lot of mana and played a big hydra or just dumped a ton of creatures out and now my Champion of Lambholt is threatening the whole board. When I don't have the biggest bruiser, being able to put a counter on Gyre Sage or Incubation Druid for free seems fantastic. You'll likely have Pir, Imaginative Rascal, Hardened Scales, Doubling Season and other fun cards in the mix, also. This card plays like a rare in a lot of my decks and I love cards like this because they remind me how far we've come from the days where I was running Dragon Blood in Vorel of the Hull Clade.
Umori, the Collector
This has a heck of a restriction, but if you played this in the 99 or the command zone, it's pure upside. If you DO want to do the work to make this work as a Companion, the deck will be pretty casual but could be a lot of fun. I think a deck that's at least 3 colors built around Enchantments is the way I'd go since Green Enchantments can fix your mana and building a big pile of them makes it very hard for them to attack you. You can generate tokens and double those tokens and make them Angels and do it all with reduced mana costs. Is that worth it? Maybe, maybe not, but this card made me want to brew the second I saw it.
Lately I have mentioned every Hatebear in my set reviews, and I think there is a good reason for that. Hatebears, at least taken in a vacuum, conform to a tenet of 75% deck-building that states in essence that it's better to stop them from doing specific things than stop them from doing anything. They can still play creatures from their hands but if they're trying to do something tricky, this stops them. Narrowing what they can do disrupts their plans to break parity by being sneaky which stops better decks but it doesn't lock the whole table out of playing any Magic which makes things less miserable for more casual decks. In this way, the 75% approach to Stax disproportionately punishes and confines better decks which is exactly what we want in a card.
Gyruda, Doom of Depths
This is basically the only card in the set that allows me to steal their cards, but does it EVER steal their cards! I'm not sure if it's worth it to have this be my companion since there are a lot of odd-costing cards I like to play in a deck that focuses on stealing from them but this is just fine in the 99 or the Command zone. If you can blink, bounce, copy or otherwise rebuy this card, you're going to do a lot of damage and I welcome it. Stealing from opponents is fun, stealing and milling is more fun, doing it to everyone at once is the most fun. They can't even when you're around, because you'll take whatever they even, and that's fun to me. This is the most 75% card in this set - it scales to their power level, it has a lot of restrictions and it takes work to make it truly unfair but the outcome is very rewarding.
This set is quite good, we have a ton of great new cards in the Commander decks as well, and most of my games will be played via webcam for the foreseeable future so we have lots of time to theorycraft with Ikoria cards. I'll be back next week with more content, so thanks for stopping by and we'll see you next time!